Robot Cleaners to Service Solar Panels Without Human Intervention
An autonomous robot cleaner developed by an Israeli start-up based on Bar-Ilan University patents cleans inaccessible solar panels
Dust settling on thousands of kilometers of solar panels worldwide reduces the global annual solar energy output by as much as 5%. However, a new Israeli development will allow the cleaning of previously unreachable solar panels.
Autonomous robots are widely used to clean large-scale, ground-based solar power installations. These robots slide along rails installed alongside the solar panel rows to wipe dust, bird droppings, and various accumulations of dirt. However, these robots are not suited for the growing number of smaller-scale solar panels often installed on rooftops.
"Nearly a third of the new solar capacity installed in 2022 comes from smaller-scale commercial or residential projects, many of which install their solar panels on rooftops. These panels comprise numerous short rows often arranged in irregular shapes or steep angles that make installing a rail robot for each row uneconomical, while other heavy robots cannot reach the rooftops", says Kaminka.
A new robot called Pleco, based on Bar-Ilan patents, can autonomously clean previously unreachable solar panels and uses a spinning brush to clean panels without water. The 20-kilogram robot has vacuum chambers enabling it to operate at angles up to 45 degrees and eventually be deployed to rooftops and carried between rows by a drone. "Our vision is of a roof-living robot that can work constantly," says Oded Fruchtman at BladeRanger, the company developing Pleco.
Prof. Gal Kaminka led the design of the robot and co-founded BladeRanger in 2016, though he left the company last year. Kaminka says they initially tested a drone that could lift robots and deliver them to panels, but the company shifted to focus on improving the robot first. The Pleco robot is being used at Bar-Ilan University, to clean its own solar panel installations on the university buildings.